What's wrong with games TV?
Last month, BBC2 Scotland announced that a second series of videogames show videoGaiden will be arriving on screens this November. The programme is presented by Robert Florence and Ryan Macleod, who began their career in gaming TV with the Internet-only show Consolevania.
Like its predecessor, videoGaiden proved to be a huge hit with gamers - unlike so many other gaming shows. So what's gone wrong in the past, and what's next for games TV? Robert Florence gives us his views on the subject.
"Why can't there be any decent videogame TV?" You've heard it said so many times. You can see it on Internet forums every day of the week. "Why? Why aren't we represented on terrestrial TV? Why won't broadcasters touch us?"
I've been invited to weigh in on this subject. I'm approaching it as someone who has worked in TV for 10 years, and has played games for 25. I'm approaching it as someone who unsuccessfully pitched a videogames show to Channel 4 about five years ago. I'm approaching it as someone who, with my mates, decided to go it alone and do games TV on the Internet. And I approach it as someone who's managed to sneak a games show onto the BBC through the back door, under cover of darkness, inside a cardboard box that smells of dog piss.
We didn't start Consolevania because we were frustrated at "lack of representation." We started Consolevania for a laugh. A giggle. There was no grand design. We just wanted to try to make something that we would watch while loaded up on beer and curries.
The first episode was filmed with a borrowed Sony VX1000, a cheap little microphone taped to a length of coat hanger, and the support of a number of great people on the Rllmuk games forum. The first episode was distributed on CD, because no-one on the team had broadband. We had no idea what we were doing.
At the time of writing (and don't ask me how we got here, because I have no idea) Consolevania attracts more "readers" than most UK games magazines. We have viewers in the States, Korea, Israel, Europe, Japan and even Venezuela, proving that we're Miss World's videogame show of choice.
We haven't aggressively promoted the show. It's all happened by word-of-mouth. What's the appeal? I think it's two things - Truth and Fun. Truth, because if we hate a game, we'll hammer it. Really hammer it. And if we love a game, we'll champion it to the point of being accused of being its girlfriend. Fun, because we're still just mates having a laugh.
It's a strange existence for the "Internet TV show." Despite the massive number of viewers we reach, we still find it difficult to source any review copies of games. We get the occasional thing coming in, usually from PR companies who have enjoyed the show, but we still find ourselves having to pay for software and hardware to review.
I think that PR companies don't like it when they send you something and you don't review it, and we've done that. But we have to consider our reviews on a televisual basis as well as all the other stuff, so not everything can automatically fly. I think some PR places don't like the fact that we have a tendency to point and laugh at games. I think some PR places don't like the fact that we don't want or need exclusives, or press trips, or finger food, or live bands, or a nice party, or nice wee presents. We just want games, so we can tell people the truth about them. They have no control.
All of which leads me back to the question asked at the start of this piece. "Why aren't gamers represented on terrestrial TV?" I think I know why. I've had many a meeting with many a production company. I like to think that over my 10 years of eking out a living in telly, I have a vague idea of "the way they think." And that's why I believe that the reason why there hasn't been any great videogame TV is not because "they" don't understand us. It's because almost every time there's been a videogames TV show, it's been utter crap.
I could list them, but you know them all already. With the exception of Gamesmaster, which itself was a weak format saved from early death by Dominik Diamond and Dominik Diamond alone, videogames TV has a history of missed opportunities and lazy box-ticking production.
Why would any right-minded commissioning editor, whose job is on the line every time he signs off on a TV show, ask for more games TV when even gamers hate most past examples? So, don't blame TV. Blame those who had their shot and blew it.
The BBC has commissioned videoGaiden for two main reasons. One, it has links with Consolevania, which means there's already a solid base of viewers out there. Two, it doesn't recognisably share any ties with games TV of the past.
In order for videoGaiden to happen, the show's had to distance itself from the formats (and the mistakes) of videogame TV history. There will be no "celebrity gaming challenges." There will be no teenagers in the studio, telling us what they think of Battle Raper's graphics. There will be no features telling people what a Super Nintendo is. There will be no dolly birds with pigtails and Riot Grrrl facial expressions waving light guns about. Deliciously, there will be no Iain Lee.
It won't be anything like Consolevania either. The BBC would have liked that, I think. But we want to keep our baby in our cradle. videoGaiden will be something totally different. There will be reviews, sure, and we'll carry on the approach of not caring about pleasing the PR men, only this time we can thumb our nose and say, "We're the BBC. Who the f**k are you?"
There will be "comedic moments" in a studio, because we like doing comedy, and we like poking fun at games and gamers. There will be a series long campaign (think "Blue Peter Appeal" with more swearing) that's so exciting I can't stop grinning as I think about it.
And there will be features. We start shooting the features at the end of August. If they work out as planned, they'll be bizarre and incredible. If they don't work out as planned, they'll be baffling and we'll have blown our shot.
The format of videoGaiden is, then, a couple of guys and their cronies from an Internet TV show having a laugh about games, spending the license payer's money on stupid big props, and doing honest reviews in fancy dress.
It's not rocket science, but I think it'll be enough. We might blow it, sure, and send videogames TV down the terrestrial TV plughole for another five years. But if we do blow it, let's not do it with an uninteresting, unambitious, "Yeahkidscheckitout!" thumbs-up to the camera.
Let's blow it in a glorious, unforgettable blaze of videogaming glory, laughing all the way.
Robert Florence is a presenter on videoGaiden. The new series will be broadcast on BBC2 Scotland and available for download this November.
Has video killed the terrestrial star?
After several valiant but flawed attempts at games programming, terrestrial might have pulled up the drawbridge. But shows like videoGaiden, backed by the Internet media revolution, show there's more than one way into the castle.
As the editor of Eurogamer TV, veteran games journalist and editor Johnny Minkley is at the vanguard of what many see as a revolution in video coverage of games - no longer tied to TV schedules or the whim of TV executives, he and other content creators are now serving shows directly to their audience, on demand.
In a follow-up to the article written by videoGaiden co-creator Robert Florence for Gamesindustry.biz, Minkley explains why the Internet is changing the rules for videogames television - and explores the key challenges this brave new medium faces.
Video games programming on terrestrial TV has, in the main, been overwhelmingly, over-zealously awful for years. The whys and wherefores are well documented by Consolevania and videoGaiden co-creator Robert Florence in his article - and he's been there, tried it and been given the free XXXL t-shirt. As he succinctly observes, the games industry had its shot and blew it.
That Florence is, nevertheless, writing from the considerable vantage point of having a second series of videoGaiden commissioned by BBC Scotland illustrates the unbreakable, elemental truth that the right show can and will work.
But videoGaiden would not exist were it not for the success of Consolevania, Florence and co's original games TV concept that built a cult following via the Internet - which highlights a wider truth that the rules of the game have now changed. What it tells us is, the struggle would-be games broadcasters have had in recent years in convincing, let's be honest, understandably conservative major networks to embrace games programming is no longer the proverbial dead end it once was.
Moreover, shows which have attempted to crack the mainstream of late (Bits, Thumb Bandits), regardless of merit, have been united not just in their ultimate failure, but in an inability to find a 'place' in the schedules. But in today's on-demand, broadband-powered world, the seismic, irreversible shift in the way media is consumed means this obstacle has been smashed down for good .
The Internet music revolution has fundamentally changed the way people experience audio content. The video revolution is happening now, fuelled not just by the rapid spread of high-speed broadband access, but also by consumers who, now able to access music however, whenever and wherever they want, not unreasonably expect the same from TV.
Technology like TiVo was part of the first wave effecting this change. The Internet is now pioneering the content revolution. And, crucially, consumers are no longer in thrall to inflexible broadcast schedules - TV must fit around their hectic lives, not the other way around. How many of you reading this article who are fans of Lost, I wonder, are now happy to wait for the months-after-the-US updates on regular Channel 4? And how many of you instead venture down the download route, pre-ordering the box set online to assuage any pangs of guilt?
The relatively low cost of entry and democratisation of video-based media provided by the likes of Google Video and YouTube, for instance, means practically anyone can now cobble together their own entertainment spectacular. And anyone pretty much already does, as the numerous examples remorselessly satirised on games site UK Resistance testify.
Indeed, there was no clearer sign that video is the fresh-faced, flavour-of-the-month, honeymooning medium of the moment than the seething mass of fansite 'CEO's at this year's E3 - a large proportion of whom had arrived fully camcordered and dangerous.
This proliferation of video content and choice is unquestionably a good thing, of course; but it creates the same paradox as that which emerged from the explosive growth of online journalism, both 'professional' and 'civilian' - a greater need than ever for intelligent, thought-provoking, hard-hitting or just downright entertaining specialist content that sifts through the mountains of information, picks out what is important and explains to its audience why it matters to them. The essence of any form of good journalism, in fact.
Gaming is already well served by a large body of passionate, intelligent writers both in print and online. But it is, after all, a visual medium. And with technology now up to speed, on-demand video content represents a massive opportunity to complement, enrich, entertain and deepen consumer understanding and appreciation of the industry to the obvious benefit of all. This is where our very own Eurogamer TV comes in.
Freed from the bonds of traditional scheduling, today's savvy consumer wants his media fix available 24/7 at the touch of a button, be it via laptop, iPod, PSP, mobile or, yes, even the humble TV. Sites like Eurogamer TV have been created to feed this hunger, but in a compelling, professional manner.
With Eurogamer.net recently recording an ABCE certified readership of over 1.2 million unique users, Eurogamer TV has a ready-made and enormous potential audience of enthusiasts and delivers all of its programming, on-demand, absolutely free of charge. Gone are the days when stumbling into a gap on Sky channel 792 are the measure of success for the games industry.
Meanwhile, as shows like Consolevania and videoGaiden are now showing, the right content and the right format, even on a shoe-string, coupled with the added benefit of Arctic Monkeys-style 'Net momentum, can still have a persuasive effect on those who hold the keys to the terrestrial kingdom and therefore greater mainstream acceptance, without requiring the need to resort to self-defeating compromise. Or Iain Lee.
Eurogamer TV is part of Eurogamer Network Ltd, encompasing commercial websites Eurogamer.net, Eurogamer.de and Eurogamer.tv, together with industry trade sites Gamesindustry.biz and Mobileindustry.biz.